Racial justice, immigration, abortion rights and ranked choice voting initiatives on the ballot today
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AMY GOOD MAN: This is Democracy now!, The War and Peace Report, The quarantine report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Yes, today is election day. All eyes are on the battle between President Trump and Joe Biden as people go to the polls across the country, but not for the first time. It is the last day of the poll. In fact, more than 100 million people, three-quarters of the total vote in 2016, have already voted. But ballot races and state voting measures also have major consequences for racial justice, immigration, preferential voting, reproductive rights.
To find out more, we go to Washington, DC, where we are joined by Ronald Newman, the national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ronald, welcome to Democracy now! It’s great to have you with us. So many questions are on the ballot across the country, perhaps not as many as in the past, due to the pandemic and what it takes to get an initiative to vote on the ballot. But if you can talk about the meaning of these and start with the issue of racial justice, what are you following?
RONALD MAN NEW: Absolutely. And thank you, Amy, thank you, Juan, for inviting me this morning.
We say all the time that civil rights and civil liberties are determined from top to bottom of the ballot. And while there will inevitably be inordinate attention to the presidential race, to Joe Biden, to Donald Trump, the issues and policies that affect people day to day are often determined on the bottom of the ballot, sometimes on the back. of the ballot. . And so, we, as an institution, are very involved in these races, in these voting measures.
For example, 805, an election measure in Oklahoma, will determine whether thousands of people, including many people of color, will be released. Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country in years, and this election measure will go a long way to roll back extreme sentences.
Plus, if you think of Prop 16 in California, we’re trying to restore affirmative action in the contexts of education, hiring, and government procurement, and thus minority-run and run-of-the-mill businesses. by women have a real opportunity to grow and move forward.
And so, these problems arise all the time, not only in voting metrics, but also in candidate ballot races, district attorney races, sheriff races. It is the elections that have a real and tangible effect on the lived experiences of people across the country.
JEANS GONZÁLEZ: And, Ron, could you talk about Nebraska and “Vote for 428”, why is it also about racial justice?
RONALD MAN NEW: Absolutely. So in Nebraska, we hope we can celebrate a victory tonight and end predatory payday loans. Unfortunately, payday loans have been issued in Nebraska for years. And the interest rates on these loans average upwards of 400%. And so, our voting measure would end that and put a cap on the APR associated with loans at 36%.
And why is this important? This is important because when you look at the numbers you see that these types of predatory and abusive loans are disproportionately given to people of color. And so, every year, as Pew Research reported, $ 28 million in fines and fees is taken out of the pockets of Nebraskans – not Nebraskans in general, as most Nebraskans do not use loans on salary, but vulnerable Nebraskans, including, disproportionately, people of color. And those payday loan shops are moving into communities of color at outrageous rates, even when you adjust income. And so, for the sake of racial justice, we are fighting hard to end these predatory and predatory loans.
JEANS GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve also brought to light several County Sheriff Races in the South, once again helping to end policies that specifically target undocumented or immigrant workers, in places like Charleston and in several counties in Georgia. Could you talk about it?
RONALD MAN NEW: Yes. So this work started a few years ago. You know, part of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda has been to involve the local police and local sheriff’s deputies in their work. In fact, they have deputized for local police officers, who are supposed to protect and serve their communities. They have appointed these police officers as immigration officers, often in cases where the populations of these towns, cities, counties do not know and would not approve of it.
And so, in 2018, we engaged in a handful of sheriff races in North Carolina, and voters resoundingly chose the challengers of the incumbents who ended these deals with the federal government, with Immigration and Customs. Enforcement. And we are engaged in these battles again this year.
And so, three to watch out for, in particular, are Cobb County, Georgia; Gwinnett County, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina. In each of these cases, there is a challenger for the incumbent who has made an explicit commitment, who has made an explicit commitment to terminate these agreements from day one, so that the members of these communities can live in peace and safe, knowing that the police, who are supposed to protect and serve them, are not, in effect, working as immigration officers trying to tear families apart.
AMY GOOD MAN: I also wanted to ask you a question about preferential voting. Massachusetts and Alaska both have voting initiatives regarding the adoption of the preferential vote. This would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. The state of Maine made history this year by becoming the first state to use preferential voting in a national election, and it could decide who wins the Senate race. Republican Senator Susan Collins is in a tight race with Democrat Sara Gideon. Green Party candidate Lisa Savage is third in the poll. As part of the preferential vote, supporters of the Green candidate could pick the Democrat as their second option, giving the Democrat a potential boost in the counting of the second ballot. So if you could talk about the importance of that, and then these two states, Montana and Alaska, what are they doing?
RONALD MAN NEW: Yes. Thus, preferential voting is a problem that we have been following for a few years. Voters in Maine passed a voting measure in 2016 that established priority voting in that state. And then we’ve spent the last few years fighting over whether these new rules will come into effect. the ACLU he himself was heavily involved in 2018 when Republicans across the state sought to withdraw or repeal this new voting regime.
But the preferential vote holds great promise for improving the functioning of our democracy. At the heart of this reform is to ensure that the election results reflect the will of the voters. Maine went through several elections in which the winner of key races got less than 50% of the vote – in many cases less than 40% of the vote – in circumstances where it was clear that most people preferred not to for that person to take. elected office. And so, preferential voting helps protect against that.
Plus, it helps protect against what you might call the spoiler effect. I think we’ve all been in conversations where people have worried about this third candidate, this Green Party candidate, siphoning off votes from another candidate. With priority voting, you can protect yourself against this event, as second-choice votes end up being reallocated if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
The last and final element that advocates have talked about a lot in the context of preferential voting is the effect it might have on electoral discourse. If you are engaged in an election in which second-choice votes really matter, you might be less inclined to engage in a negative campaign and launch negative attacks on your competition because their voters are important to you as well.
So this range of benefits is what the State of Maine is looking for. And as you noted, it could have a significant effect in the race for the Senate. And other states, like Massachusetts and Alaska, are also planning to take that step and follow states like California and Minnesota that have adopted preferential voting in various places over the years.
AMY GOOD MAN: Well, we want to thank you, Ron Newman, for joining us. Ronald Newman is the National Political Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. And we’ll be following all these voting initiatives on our show, our election special tonight starting at 9:00 p.m. EST, and also in the coming days as this information is released, as well as, of course, our full special election tonight at 9:00 p.m. EST.